How to Spot Fake News

How to Spot Fake News

Do you know how to spot fake news? While fake news and misinformation are nothing new, spotting them in today’s digital age can be a daunting task. An immense amount of information is being shared every day – on social media, in print and broadcast media, on blogs, etc. – making it increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction and credible sources from untrustworthy ones.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into some essential strategies for spotting fake news so that you can safeguard yourself (and those around you) against its many negative consequences.

What Is Fake News?

Fake news – sensationalized or fabricated information presented as legitimate news – has become a widespread issue in the modern media landscape. It can take various forms, from outright, deliberate falsehoods to misleading content designed to manipulate public opinion.

There are some signs that suggest news might be fake:

  • Sensationalist or clickbait headlines
  • A lack of credible sources 
  • Unverified information, images, or videos 
  • Biased or one-sided content 
  • Poorly written content with lots of errors

Although fake news sounds like a new term, according to Merriam-Webster, it was actually coined at the end of the 19th century. Before the advent of the internet, individuals had to rely on print media outlets for their news. Sensationalist newspaper reports were common – exaggerated headlines sold more newspapers.

Today, most reputable sources are subject to strict journalistic guidelines and ethical standards. For example, The New York Times has an ethical journalism handbook and the USA Today Network adheres to the Principles of Ethical Conduct For Newsrooms. Similarly, many UK news outlets are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

However, the internet has made it possible for anyone to publish and distribute information. Much of this information is subject to little (or no) regulation or editorial protocol. Many individuals now get their news from social media platforms and other online sources, which aren’t necessarily reliable.

How Does Fake News Spread?

One of the most alarming aspects of fake news is its rapid spread through social media platforms and online communities. With the click of a button, false narratives can reach millions of people, amplifying their impact and perpetuating misinformation. This dissemination can have serious consequences, fueling distrust in institutions, dividing communities, and even influencing political outcomes.

Real-world examples abound, such as the infamous Pizzagate conspiracy theory that falsely alleged that a Washington, D.C. pizzeria was involved in a child trafficking ring linked to prominent political figures. Despite being thoroughly debunked, the conspiracy gained traction online and even led to a violent incident at the restaurant.

In another example, a digitally altered video spread the idea that the future COVID-19 vaccine would contain a tracking microchip. Video clips of Bill Gates and other famous faces were combined with footage from unrelated news reports to create a false narrative. The video was shared over 27,100 times on Facebook, causing widespread outrage and panic.

How to Combat Fake News

Combating fake news requires critical thinking and a proactive approach. You should always:

  • Check the Source. Before believing a story, verify the source’s credibility. Look for reputable news outlets known for their journalistic integrity. It’s also worth checking to see if multiple credible sources have reported on a story. 
  • Be Vigilant. Many websites attempt to present themselves as legitimate when they aren’t. Some tell-tale signs of a fraudulent site include a misspelled domain name or a missing padlock (the icon to the left of the URL in the address bar that indicates a secure site when present). 
  • Review the Headlines. Some headlines use the shock factor to draw people in, exaggerating or making up claims. They may also use “zombie stats” – false statistics repeated so often that they start to be perceived as facts. Read beyond the headline and scrutinize the article’s content before sharing it.
  • Evaluate the Content. This is where fact-checking comes in. Pay close attention to objectively verifiable facts (e.g., names, places, dates) and cross-reference the information with other sources. Fake news can be based on true events – but the authors may distort those events, changing the locations, dates, or timelines. Fact-checking tools like Snopes, FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact can help you debunk false information. 
  • Evaluate Bias. Be aware of potential biases in reporting. Typically, reputable sources will discuss a variety of perspectives on an issue. If a source is very one-sided, it may be trying to promote a particular (often harmful) narrative. Try to seek diverse viewpoints and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the issue.
  • Examine Supporting Evidence. Look for supporting evidence like quotations from specialists or primary and secondary sources. Be wary of articles that rely solely on anecdotal evidence or speculation.
  • Analyze the Language and Layout. User-friendly websites with clear, easy-to-read content are generally more trustworthy. Lots of spelling or grammar mistakes can indicate a less than meticulous editing process, which should raise questions about the article’s validity.

By employing these strategies, you can become a more discerning consumer of news and help to combat the spread of fake news in your community.

Become a Fact-Checker

In an era inundated with misinformation, it’s crucial to equip yourself with the tools and knowledge to discern fact from fiction. If fact-checking interests you, try our How To Fact-Check course. You’ll learn valuable skills such as identifying reliable sources, analyzing complex data sets, and effectively applying fact-checking tools and processes. And with our 14-day money-back guarantee, it’s risk-free!

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